Sam Leccia rose to prominence in the cigar world not by simply going off the beaten path but by carving out his own personal freeway. When he pioneered Nub—a concept now widely copied—Leccia promoted it passionately. Affable and engaging, he hit the road like an evangelist on a tent-show revival tour, gaining new fans wherever he went.
Stymied by a non-compete after he left Oliva, Leccia was out of the picture for a while but never out of the thoughts of those who admired his work. Forums and blogs often sizzled with rumors of his return. When Leccia did come back, heading an eponymous company, the inaugural Black and White cigars earned high praise, particularly his use of fire-cured tobacco, quite unusual at the time.
Then came another speed bump. Industry giant General Cigar acquired his distributor, Toraño, and soon thereafter Leccia licensed his brands to General and went to work for the company. And, once again, Leccia and his cigars were the center of attention and rumor. Would the creative iconoclast be swallowed up by the corporate behemoth? To some, it seemed as if Steve Jobs had gone to work for IBM. (Interestingly, Leccia was a trailblazer in this as well, his move foreshadowing the angst that followed the sale of Drew Estate to Swisher shortly afterward.)
These days, Leccia says, he’s splitting work time among his home in Pittsburgh (site of Leccia Tobacco headquarters, aka “my garage”), General’s offices in Richmond, and on the road. In an email, he said he’s been to over 30 states and 4 countries since February: “I find that being on the road and meeting with retailers and customers is one of the most important aspects of this business, and I don’t imagine that ever slowing down.”
Interestingly, Leccia said the biggest surprise for him at General has been “how truly small this large company really is… People think of it as some huge corporate goliath, and it is so far from that. The premium cigar industry is incredibly small, so sure, General is a big fish, but the pond is more of a deep puddle.”
When it came time for this year’s cigar trade show, consumers were keenly interested in what Leccia would introduce. Once again, he went his own way. Rather than something completely new—which is what might have been expected—Leccia showed off an extension of his existing Luchador line, called El Gringo. (Of course, he did that his way as well, bringing a professional wrestler—masked, of course—to the floor to knock Leccia around.) With four sizes, each named for a wrestling move, El Gringo has a Nicaraguan Oscuro wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and Ligero from Nicaragua and Pennsylvania. The band features a distinct version of the line’s Mexican wrestling mask.
General sent me samples of the Frog Splash, which retails for $8.25 and comes in boxes of 21. Short (4.5 inches), sharply pressed (Leccia refers to it as a “mat press”), and thick (70 ring gauge), it looks like a powerhouse. And it doesn’t disappoint, displaying strength in the upper-medium to full range.
I wasn’t sure at first how it would smoke. For someone not particularly fond of large ring-gauge cigars, Frog Splash is a bit intimidating. The press, though, does make it more comfortable. I tried a guillotine cut on the foot of a couple, but found a large punch worked better, tightening up the draw a tad. Each one I smoked performed excellently: slow, even burn; tight ash; and lots of smoke.
From beginning to end, it is a smooth, rich cigar, with pepper, dark chocolate, spice and coffee tastes that rise and fall throughout. I found it engaging and enjoyable from beginning to end, which was about two hours.
I recommend giving this line a try, especially if it is outside your cigar comfort zone. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As for a rating, I give the Frog Splash a high-flying four stogies out of five.
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photo credit: Stogie Guys